An arid landscape
On our way back to Victoria, we took the opportunity to detour via the Southern part of the Flinders Ranges. We ran out of time and were unable to stay overnight, but wanted to have a look around Quorn and surroundings in preparation for a future visit.
The area around Port Augusta is fairly flat and rather dusty due to a contentious decommissioned power station site which has not been fully rehabilitated. This part of South Australia gets very little rainfall at the best of times – an average 214mm pa for Port Augusta and 257mm pa for Quorn. Ballan gets about 700mm pa. Unfortunately there has been little or no rain here over the past 15 or so months. Most towns are dependent on river water from the Murray pumped through a network of concrete pipes which can be seen next to many major roads. Farm water is usually from bores as dams are too unreliable due to lack of rainfall and high evaporation. At least one of the station stays in the Flinders Ranges is currently closed after running out of water.
We experienced dust storms throughout the day which made for difficult driving conditions.
The small town of Quorn (Population about 1250) is only about 40km from Port Augusta and the Flinders ranges rose quickly once we left the coast.
Quorn was established in 1878 as a railway town to support the North South line from Port Augusta to Quorn. The line later extended to Alice Springs. Quorn later became the location of a railway cross road between the North South line and the Trans Australian Railway between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie. Quorn was a bustling town in those days, and anyone travelling east–west or north–south across Australia would need to pass through Quorn. The architecture of the town reflects its relative wealth.
The role as a crossroads was lost when a new railway was constructed directly from Port Pirie to Port Augusta in 1937 resulting in the East West trains bypassing Quorn. The town remained a vital service point for trains heading North to transport troops to Darwin during World War II.
The remaining train services bypassed Quorn from the 1950’s other than some freight services to Hawker. The line was closed in the the 1980s and replaced by road transport. In 1973 a group of railway enthusiasts formed the Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society which continues to operate a tourist service between Quorn and Port Augusta. Unfortunately the trains run only on weekends and we missed out on the experience.
We were keen to visit at least one of the gorges around Quorn. After consulting the information centre located at the old railway building regarding caravan access we headed out to Warren Gorge, about 20 km from town. The road is bitumen up to the entrance to the park surrounding the gorge. The road into the gorge itself is dirt and one section would be difficult to pass in very wet conditions, particularly with a caravan in tow or a 2WD vehicle.
Kanyaka station ruins
Kanyaka station was a huge property of about 950 square km, which was almost a small town due to the number of people living there in its heyday. Among other things, it had a room for a doctors surgery and acted as a post office as it was the last location for mail deliveries.
Hugh Proby established Kanyaka in the 1850’s and also secured a number of additional runs in the area. He ran a large mob of cattle, hoping to make his fortune. Unfortunately the weather was not agreeable and a thunderstorm stampeded the cattle. Proby drowned while attempting to cross a creek on his horse aged 24. Some years later his family imported a granite gravestone from England and shipped this to Port Augusta. A bullock wagon then hauled the stone to be placed on his grave. The area is colloquially called Proby’s grave and can be visited off the Quorn-Hawker road.
Alexander Grant then bought Kanyaka and continued to farm sheep and establish many of the stone buildings. The farm was largely self sufficient and produced wool from around 40,000 sheep until a severe drought killed half the sheep in the 1860’s. The station continued for some time but the number of people living there diminished and the property was eventually abandoned.
Like Quorn, Hawker was a railway town until the route of the Ghan moved in 1956. These days with a population of 341, it is a great base for visiting the Flinders Ranges. The weather was hot, windy and dusty, but the war memorial site caught our eye.
Due to the weather condition we decided not to stay at our intended stop behind the Cradock Hotel. This would have been OK for an overnighter but on this day was a dusty car park with no shade or power. Instead we went right through to Peterborough where we bunked down at the caravan park. The shelter from the wind helped and we could run the the air conditioner in the van. Peterborough is another railway town which used to the a major regional Maintenance and Service Centre for South Australias railway stock. The town has an apparently excellent railway museum known as “Steamtown”.